A high-rated film starts with a good story, second in importance is the quality of the visual experience, third in importance is acting because actors almost always do their job with more actors available than roles available. This film has it all reversed. The script makes the film way too long. How many professional critics keep saying this about nearly every Japanese film, but current films still are overly long compared with those of the Japanese golden age of film? Far too much screen time was spent on the clumsy robbery and too little on the background of characters that are supposed to be what makes the source novel unique. I was disappointed at the end because the source novel relies on a concealed truth I consider my second most hated plot device in Asian films. Unless you are a fan of the starring actors, there are far better crime films to be seen.
Speaking of the cast, Tadanobu Asano, a past Creative Spotlight interviewee, gives a great performance. The A-list cast includes Satoshi Tsumabuki as Koda and Tadanobu Asano as Kitagawa, college buddies who plan to execute one daring bank heist with the help of bank security employee Noda, a North Korean spy pretending to be a student, Kitagawa’s younger brother Haruki and a former elevator engineer. Their target is the 1.5 billion yen gold bars located at the basement of the head office of Sumita Bank. Using location plans, inside information, computer hacking, electrical wirings and bombs, these group of men will break into the bank’s high-tech security system and take out the gold bars. There are two side stories – a somewhat hazy background of Momo (ChangMin) who is being pursued by (most probably) Korean hitmen, and a gang seeking revenge on Kitagawa, Koda and Haruki.
Junpei Mizobata, on the other hand, played a rather short role but managed to shine throughout the film. As the younger brother of Kitagawa, he works hard as a day laborer and gambles at night. His violent fights with a gambling gang affected the other characters, thus making the heist more complicated than it should be. With his melancholic eyes that seem to be asking for forgiveness and understanding, he made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the group. I have noticed Junpei’s acting potential, and in this movie, he managed to fulfill it. The fact that they’re basically a bunch of amateurs and that one (Chang-Min) is a North Korean spy gives the romp a certain frisson. When the break-in happens, it’s all by the numbers. Not that it’s badly directed, but tearing pages out of Dassin’s or Melville’s books, the film doesn’t reach beyond.
They made the first half watchable with the help of South Korean idol Shim Chang-Min who grabbed a Rookie of the Year award from the Japanse Academy for his role as the North Korean-bomber-working college student. Junpei Mizobata, who played Asano’s younger brother, also made quite an impact with his heartfelt performance as a gambling addict who remained a loyal and trusted member of the gang. Most of the top Asian heist movies are either Korean or Chinese, but filmmaker Kazuyuki Izutsu attempt to give us a Japanese version is commendable, although it leaves a lot to be desired.